Debates in contemporary theoretical philosophy
Aims. The course is centred two central questions: what we know and what we should believe. It approaches these questions by examining candidate principles for knowledge and justified belief. Examples of such principles are: what is known is true; one should believe what one knows; it is not justified to have contradictory beliefs; it is justified to believe what follows from one’s beliefs, and so on. Studying such principles is one of the main ways in which contemporary philosophers gain insight into what knowledge is, what we know and what we should believe.
Description. The first week, taught by Sven Rosenkranz, provides a general introduction to epistemology, its central conceptual distinctions and its core questions. The second week, taught by Julien Dutant from King’s College London. It will cover views of knowledge in Western philosophy, the contemporary debate on the analysis of knowledge, some influential contemporary theories of knowledge and their implications of some of our principles. It will also ask what we should believe, in particular whether we should believe what is sufficiently probable, whether our beliefs should be coherent, whether we should believe the consequences of what we believe, and whether we may believe things we know we don’t know. Along the way it will provide students with formal tools that are essential for epistemology such as probability theory, epistemic utility theory. A detailed provisional programme is provided below.
CB6. Students should be able to critically understand central texts in epistemology in a way that puts them in a position to develop and apply original ideas.
CB9. Students should be able to communicate their knowledge and their arguments to specialized audiences in a clear and articulate way.
CG2. Students should be able to design, create, develop and undertake new and innovative projects in their area of expertise.
CG3. Students should be able to engage both in general and specific discussions in the domain of epistemology. They should be able to conduct a philosophical discussion (orally and in written form), by putting forward, for example, general arguments or specific examples, in support of one’s position.
CG4. Students should be able to work both independently and in a team, in an international environment.
CG5. Students should be able to identify methodological errors, rhetorical, conventional and uncritical assumptions, vagueness and superficiality.
CE1. Students should be able to critically engage with the concepts and methods of contemporary epistemology.
CE2. Students should be able to identify the core arguments and theories of contemporary epistemology.
CE4. Students should be able to assess the writings of leading contemporary philosophers in the field of epistemology.
CE5. Students should be able to identify and critically engage with the current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.
CE7. Students should be able to critically use specialized terminology in the field of epistemology.
The course will combine lectures by the course instructors with seminar-like discussions to which students are expected to actively contribute. A list of mandatory readings (about 100 pages in total) will be communicated before the course. Some preparatory readings are also suggested in the bibliography.
Evaluation will be based on active participation in class and a final essay, of around 3000 words, on a pertinent question to be agreed with the course instructors.
Students are not expected to have read all the texts mentioned above before the course starts. Students who wish to do some preparatory readings can use the suggestions below. A list of obligatory readings will be made available before the course.
Suggested preparatory readings
Student who wish to start preparing now may use one or several of the following. (To be clear, these are not the mandatory readings for the course.)
- Nagel, Jennifer. 2014. Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press. Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5, 7. A brief, accessible and rigorous introduction to a number of topics presented in the course.
- Papineau, David. 2012. Philosophical Devices. Chaps 7 and 8. A brief and easy introduction to probability.
- Bradley, Darren. 2015. A Critical Introduction to Formal Epistemology. Chaps 1, 2, 3 offer a clear introduction to probability with a focus on epistemology.
- Bird, Alexander. 2007. “Justified Judging.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1): 81–110.
- Christensen, David. 2004. Putting Logic in Its Place: Formal Constraints on Rational Belief. Oxford University Press.
- Comesaña, Juan. 2005. “Unsafe Knowledge.” Synthese 146 (3): 395–404. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11229-004-6213-7.
- Dutant, Julien. 2015. “The Legend of the Justified True Belief Analysis.” Philosophical Perspectives 29 (1): 95–145. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpe.12061.
- Dutant, Julien. 2016. “How to Be an Infallibilist.” Philosophical Issues 26 (1): 148–71. https://doi.org/10.1111/phis.12085.
- Dutant, Julien. man. Logics for derived knowledge and belief.
- Dutant, Julien and Fitelson, Branden, man. Knowledge-Centred Epistemic Utility Theory. Fitelson, Branden, and Kenny Easwaran. 2015. “Accuracy, Coherence and Evidence.” Oxford Studies in Epistemology 5: 61–96.
- Goodman, Jeremy and Holguin, Ben. manuscript. “Thinking and Being Sure”. https://jeremy goodman.com/Surethink.pdf
- Greco, Daniel. 2017. “Cognitive Mobile Homes.” Mind 126 (501): 93–121. https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzv190.
- Hawthorne, John, and Maria Lasonen-Aarnio. 2009. “Knowledge and Objective Chance.” In Williamson on Knowledge, edited by Peter Greenough and Duncan Pritchard, 92–108. Oxford University Press.
- Hawthorne, John and Arturs Logins. 2021. Graded epistemic justification. Philosophical Studies 178, 1845–1858. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-020-01512-0 Hawthorne, John, Daniel Rothschild and Levi Spectre. 2016. Belief is Weak. Philosophical Studies, 173(5), 1393–1404.
- Joyce, James M. 1998. “A Nonpragmatic Vindication of Probabilism.” Philosophy of Science 65 (4): 575–603.
- Lasonen-Aarnio, Maria. 2010. “Unreasonable Knowledge.” Philosophical Perspectives 24 (1): 1–21.
- Littlejohn, Clayton. 2015. “Stop Making Sense? On a Puzzle about Rationality.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96 (2): 257–72. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12271. Nozick, Robert. 1981. Philosophical Explanations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. (Excerpts)
- Pasnau, Robert. 2013. “Epistemology Idealized.” Mind 122: 988–1021.
- Pettigrew, Richard. 2016. Accuracy and the Laws of Credence. Oxford University Press. Pritchard, Duncan. 2012. “Anti-Luck Virtue Epistemology.” Journal of Philosophy 109 (3): 247– 79.
- Rosenkranz, Sven. 2017. “The Structure of Justification.” Mind 127, 309-38. Robert Weston Siscoe, “Belief, Rational and Justified”, Mind, Volume 130, Issue 517, January 2021, Pages 59–83, https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzaa021
- Srinivasan, Amia. 2015. “Are We Luminous?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 90 (2): 294–319. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12067.
- Williamson, Timothy. 2009. “Probability and Danger.” The Amherst Lecture in Philosophy, 1– 35.
- Williamson, Timothy. 2000. Knowledge and Its Limits. Oxford University Press, chap. 5. Williamson, Timothy. 2011. “Improbable Knowing.” In Evidentialism and Its Discontents, edited by T. Dougherty. Oxford University Press.
- Williamson, Timothy. Forthcoming. “Knowledge, Credence and the Strength of Belief”. to appear in Amy Flowerree and Baron Reed (eds.), ExpansiveEpistemology: Norms, Action, and the Social World, London: Routledge https://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/files/knowledgecredenceandthestrengthofbeliefpdf
- Zagzebski, Linda. 1994. “The Inescapability of Gettier Problems.” The Philosophical Quarterly 44 (174): 65–73.